SP PNG Hunters coach Matt Church said his players had drawn a “line in the sand” to start stage two of their Intrust Super Cup season with Saturday’s away clash with the Sunshine Coast Falcons.
The competition will return after two weekends without football – the mid-season bye was followed by last week’s COVID lockdown which prevented any play but enabled players an extra week’s rest before eight consecutive weeks of matches.
Fullback Terry Wapi and winger Brendon Gutuno, scheduled to return last weekend in the postponed match against Mackay Cutters, are certain starters at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday.
However, backrower Keven Appo will be given one more week to recover from an infection in his ankle which caused his leg to swell after an injury in the Round 11 clash with Burleigh Bears.
Gutuno will return 13 weeks after fracturing his arm in two places in the 26-14 Round 3 victory against the Cutters in Mackay while fullback Wapi has played only one match since Round 6 because of an ankle injury.
The dynamic 26-year-old Wapi has scored 12 tries in his 19 appearances since his debut in 2019 while Gutuno has been a regular on the flank since 2018 (32 appearances) and had scored three tries in his three matches this season.
Appo will return in Round 14 to take on Northern Pride in the Country Week match in Atherton while Norman Brown (knee), Edwin Ipape (shoulder) and Epel Kapinias (ankle) could all return by the following week.
“We’re treating the break as a line in the sand for our season and I feel we’ve regrouped and are ready to take the last eight rounds head-on,” Church said.
“We know there’s a bit of work to do but we’re up for the challenge against a team with plenty of experience like the Falcons.
“We can take some confidence out of the fact we will field our most experienced backline for some time and that we’ve been able to rest some niggling injuries.
“The squad is training well together so we’ve got plenty to look forward to.”
The Falcons have named a team without any squad members from affiliated NRL club Melbourne Storm. The NRL players are being kept in a COVID bubble while the competition deals with lockdowns in different cities.
However, the Falcons have named Kumuls hooker Kurt Baptiste, experienced halfback Todd Murphy and a host of players who have been part of winning Sunshine Coast teams.
The Falcons, who sit outside the top eight with five wins from their 11 matches, will relish playing again at their Sunshine Coast Stadium home, where they lost a close match to Townsville Blackhawks two weeks ago.
This match is the second leg of the Intrust Super Cup’s 2021 Rivalry Round match-ups, which featured a clash between the Hunters and Falcons at the Hunters’ home ground earlier this year.
The QRL has moved the Hunters’ clash with Mackay Cutters to Saturday 24 July on a weekend that had been set down for a bye. All matches postponed last weekend will be played on 23-24 July.
The SP PNG Hunters to play Sunshine Coast Falcons at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday July 10 at 3pm:
SP PNG HUNTERS: 1. Terri Wapi 2. Junior Rau. 3.Brandon Nima. 4. Joe Joshua. 5. Brendon Gutuno. 6. Ase Boas 7 Charlie Simon. 8. Stanton Albert. 9. Wartovo Puara Jnr. 10. Samuel Yegip 11. Benji Kot. 12. Sylvester Namo. 13. Ila Alu (c). Interchange: 14. Judah Rimbu. 15. Dilbert Isaac. 16. Mark Piti 17. Enock Maki. 18. Solo Wane. Coach: Matt Church
SUNSHINE COAST: Luke Polselli. 2. Paul Ulberg. 3. Nathan Saumalu. 4. BJ AufagaToomaga. 5. Nat McGavin. 6. Jack Wright. 7. Todd Murphy. 8. Patrice Siolo. 9. Kurt Baptiste.Wyatt Reynolds. 11. Louis Geraghty. 12. Thomas Rafter. 13. Sam Burns. Interchange: 18. William Toloi. 15. Campbell Duffy. 16. Daniel Dole. 17. Dalton Smith. 19. Sam
Bernstrom. 20. Tom Geraghty. Coach: Sam Mawhinney.
Match officials: Jarrod Cole, Dan Munroe, Steve Kanowski.